Why I Acted & How We Move Forward

Daraka Larimore-Hall, Vice Chair, California Democratic Party

On November 6, 2018, the California Democratic Party celebrated a record triumph. We decimated the GOP’s Congressional delegation, swept all statewide offices, and won historic majorities in both houses of the State Legislature. Less than two weeks later, on November 17, in the midst of a celebratory meeting of the California Democratic Party’s executive board, I learned for the first time of specific and serious allegations of sexual and other misconduct by Party Chairman Eric Bauman. As the campaign to elect a new Party Chair heats up, there have been lots of questions and speculation about the actions I took leading up to Bauman’s resignation. I understand why delegates have such questions, and I want to be as clear as I can while respecting the privacy of survivors.

On the Saturday night of E-board, through an intermediary, several CDP staff members asked to speak with me about their experience of abuse. In conversations with them over the next day, I learned of the complaint filed with CDP Human Resources, as well as numerous other instances of abusive behavior, including witness intimidation, that had yet to be reported. I believed them all.

I asked this group of survivors what outcomes would give them a sense of justice and security. They all agreed that Eric needed to leave his position and that any internal investigation that occurred while he continued in the overly-powerful role of Chair would not feel safe. We also agreed that it was important that the Democratic Party not repeat the mistake made by many institutions that sweep issues under the rug at the expense of victims, whistleblowers, and progressive values.

Given the lack of process within CDP to put leaders on administrative leave or protect the anonymity of accusers, the only option available was for a member of the DSCC to file charges against the Chair, allowing him to respond to the allegations, followed by a vote of the Executive Board on his removal. I took this step in consultation with this group.

In order to spare the survivors and the Party the very public process of a trial at the Executive Board, I gave Mr. Bauman a day to consider resignation before I filed the Statement of Charges with the Party Secretary. He refused. As a result, I sent my letter containing charges to Secretary Bach on November 20th. The letter was soon leaked via social media by an unknown person. As a result, I made a public statement explaining my actions.

From the very first conversations I had with these survivors, I encouraged them to consult with attorneys about their legal rights and explore the possibility of pursuing legal claims against the Party. I assured them that I would do everything I could to support them, but that as an Officer of the Party it was important I not discuss with them the specifics of any legal claims against the Party, including potential claims regarding the fairness of Party’s investigation. Three of the victims have now filed a lawsuit against the Party, and I welcome the scrutiny which this lawsuit (and, potentially other lawsuits) will bring on the Party’s workplace climate and procedures for handling claims of discrimination, harassment, and abuse.

In addition to decisively taking the only action available for removing a Chair, I reached out to a reporter I trusted to treat the issue responsibly and equitably, to provide those survivors who wanted to an opportunity to tell their story. The growing circle of survivors communicated to peers that I could be contacted by anyone who wished to come forward. Over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday, I was contacted by more than 15 additional people with credible and heartbreaking stories of abuse and misconduct by Chairman Bauman stretching over many years. All of them had concerns about the impact that coming forward could have on their careers and the Party they are devoted to, but felt increasingly empowered by one another and a sense of shared responsibility to end the cycle of victimization and silence. More than half of them spoke with the LA Times reporter. Shortly after the LA Times article was published, Eric Bauman tendered his resignation.

I couldn’t be prouder of these political activists and professionals, many of them young and just starting careers in politics. All Democrats owe them a debt of gratitude. Their bravery has forced all of us who work in and lead the Party, myself included, to ask tough questions and take immediate action. The fact is this: Mr. Bauman’s resignation does not solve the problem. Our Party has too often not been a safe space for people to work, volunteer and commit their time to social change. Abusive behavior has been kept in place by a broader culture of fear and intimidation. So long as people are afraid to stand up for themselves because of fear of political or professional reprisals, we cannot be the Party we aspire to be. This is true in every workplace and every institution, but as an organization that voters and activists depend on to be a champion of human dignity and rights, we have a special responsibility to walk our talk and establish a path forward for other organizations to follow.

First and foremost, the Party should be subject to a top-to-bottom investigation and assessment by outside experts. We need to know more than what is likely to be revealed by the ongoing workplace harassment investigation, and we need guidance in creating processes and structures that give people confidence that coming forward will result in justice. Our current bylaws and workplace policies are not up to the task. For example, there is no clear way to temporarily remove an official during an investigation or ensure the privacy of accusers while allegations are addressed. Transparency and accountability must be our guides.

Relatedly, we need to quickly and deliberately explore options to make our Party a better workplace and political home for volunteers. We should consider the appointment of an independent ombudsperson to handle incoming complaints and guide Party members and staff through relevant processes. As a matter of principle and good employment practice, the California Democratic Party should offer “card check neutrality” to any group of employees seeking union representation. The overly powerful position of Party Chair itself must be reviewed and new checks and balances introduced to increase accountability and transparency.

Second, there are still victims in our community who have yet to find justice. The Party should pay for counseling services for all who need it, and engage in special fundraising to accomplish this quickly. There are certainly donors around the state willing to help us provide justice and healing. Professionally facilitated group counseling should be made available to the Democratic activist and leadership pool at our next gathering. The shockwaves of grief, confusion, anger, and fear are real and palpable. We have a responsibility to provide healing spaces for the people who pledge their time and energy for the Party. These provisions should be made independent of any internal or judicial resolution of employee grievances, and follow a very serious obligation not to politicize their pain.

Lastly, we have to look in the mirror and confront the culture of fear that pervades California politics. We all know that politics is not for the faint of heart, but we’ve long accepted bullying and threats of retaliation by leaders. Activists and political professionals shouldn’t have to “kiss a ring” in order forge a career, and those who have become powerful based upon the support of so many constituents, professionals, and activists must instead responsibly invest in our shared healthy future. Organizing in our communities, clubs, and workplaces is how we should derive our power — not from cliquish factions or cults of personality. Loyalty should be earned and reciprocal, not demanded. Those who are peers in the upper echelons must hold one another accountable to our shared moral values both publicly and behind closed doors in order to attain the best future for our Party and community.

There is one additional and important challenge we face in the aftermath of the allegations against Eric Bauman. As a diverse and inclusive community, we need to have a culturally-competent conversation about appropriate behavior and personal boundaries that is free from homophobia or stereotypes. Engagement by our LGBTQ Party activists and leaders will be crucial in guiding this tough but overdue conversation. Everyone deserves dignity and safety.

I am optimistic, as I am about social change in general, that we will come out of this a stronger Party and a stronger community of people. We can get back to the feeling of shared purpose and common achievement we felt on election night. To get there, the changes we need to make must be deep, swift, and always guided by solidarity and respect.